The Dialogue Continues
The Dialogue Continues
The Dialogue Continues
Photo: India Photo: India
Photo: Indonesia Photo: Indonesia
Photo: Taiwan Photo: Taiwan
Photo: Thailand Photo: Thailand
Photo: Malaysia Photo: Malaysia
Photo: Mongolia Photo: Mongolia
The Covid-19 pandemic has presented people everywhere with a common challenge and thus heightened the importance of dialogue among nations. A series of symposiums sponsored since 2015 by organizations based in India, Japan, and elsewhere has become a valuable platform for promoting dialogue among Asian nations. So far, gatherings have taken place in New Delhi and Bodh Gaya, Tokyo (twice), Yangon and Ulaanbaatar. The sixth symposium in the series will take place in Tokyo this December. In advance of that gathering, here is a look back at the symposiums to date. 
Photo: Inaugural gathering
The symposiums are a multinational initiative for promoting mutual understanding by rediscovering and reaffirming shared values. The inspiration for the initiative came to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a state visit to Japan in August 2014. 
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had escorted his Indian counterpart on a tour of Buddhist temples in Kyoto. That experience imparted to the visitor a heightened sense of India and Japan’s shared heritage, and he broached the idea of holding symposiums to explore that heritage. The proposal gained traction, and the inaugural symposium took place in New Delhi and Bodh Gaya on Sept. 3-5, 2015, under the banner Samvad (dialogue) with an emphasis on conflict avoidance and environmental consciousness.
Photo: Shinzo Abe
Shinzo Abe Prime Minister Japan
Photo: Narendra Modi
Narendra Modi Prime Minister India
Prime Minister Modi addressed the Indian gathering in person, and Prime Minister Abe delivered a video greeting. Attending the symposium were religious figures from Cambodia, India, Mongolia, Myanmar, Russia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. In attendance, too, were former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Bhutan’s Finance Minister Lyonpo Namgay Dorji, India’s Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, Japan’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Minoru Kiuchi, and Nepal’s Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Shri Kripasur Sherpa. 
Photo: Chandrika Kumaratunga
Chandrika Kumaratunga
Former President, Sri Lanka
Photo: Inaugural gathering
“I personally look forward to learning through this symposium,” declared Kiuchi in his greeting. He expressed his determination “to join the other attendees here in leading a wave of diversity and tolerance from India to Asia and Asia to the world.”
Also addressing the Samvad symposium were representatives of universities and think tanks in Belgium, Germany, India, Japan and Switzerland. Cohosting the conference were India’s Vivekananda International Foundation, the Tokyo Foundation and the New Delhi-based International Buddhist Confederation.
Kumaratunga said, “This conference is a praiseworthy enterprise, which I truly hope will infuse spiritualism and ethical behavior to our world, which is presently lost and groping in the deserts of extreme materialism and the insatiable thirst for selfish gratification.”
Photo: Minoru Kiuchi
Minoru Kiuchi
State Minister for Foreign Affairs
Government of Japan
Assimilating Ideas
Assimilating Ideas
Photo: WatanabeTsuneo Watanabe
Among the speakers at the inaugural Samvad symposium was Tsuneo Watanabe, now a senior fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. Watanabe described in his remarks how Japan, over the centuries, had imported concepts and values and grafted them onto its own indigenous thought. He cited such examples as Japan’s assimilation of Buddhism and of Western notions of human rights. And he suggested that creative, reciprocal assimilation would be useful to nations in tackling two crucial challenges: avoiding armed conflict and raising environmental consciousness.
“We Japanese have experienced through our history how Western-born democracy functions in a non-Western society,” observed Watanabe. “The same logic applies to Indian and to any other non-Western society... To resolve international and intercultural conflicts, we need to bring creative approaches to bear in reconciling seemingly incompatible ideas.”
Watanabe has maintained close ties as a participant and as an observer with the symposium series that began with the 2015 gathering in India. He noted that most Western nations, for all their differences, have shared a unifying thought system in the Judeo-Christian tradition. And he contrasts that unity with the spectacular religious and cultural diversity that prevails across Asia. 
The symposiums, Watanabe said, are an effective framework for expressing Asia’s diversity in a coherent, positive manner. That they have continued through five gatherings -- soon to be six -- is evidence of their value, he added. He said he perceived in the symposiums a glimpse of Asian nations’ potential for forestalling conflict through dialogue and for fostering a richly beneficial symbiosis through cultural interchange. He said the symposiums are an expression of Asia’s nascent influence as a proactive mover in global affairs.
Asked about his expectations for the Tokyo symposium in December, Watanabe replied, “Covid-19.” The pandemic is a litmus test, he said, for nations’ commitment to addressing the issues highlighted by the symposiums: shared values, democracy, tolerance and sustainability. Watanabe expressed the hope that the news from December’s gathering will be a message of progress on all counts.
Photo: Second gathering
The Shared Values and Democracy in Asia symposium took place in Tokyo on Jan. 19, 2016, as a follow-up to the September 2015 Samvad gathering in India. Encapsulating the message of the Tokyo gathering was a powerful concluding summation by Japanese Prime Minister Abe: “Asia is now poised to become a champion of democracy.”
Indian Prime Minister Modi reiterated the theme of the Samvad gathering in a video message. “All Asian civilizations,” Modi reminded the symposium participants, “had a common value system.” That value system, he emphasized, “recognizes, accepts, and even celebrates diversity among humans. This is what leads to conflict avoidance, as it is founded on harmony in diversity. Conflict avoidance based on harmonizing the diversity of humans is inherent in Asian democracy as its basic value.” 
Photo: Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
Former President, Indonesia
Photo: Second gathering
Former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono delivered one of the two keynote addresses in Tokyo. He recalled one Japanese leader’s lament in the late 1970s that Japan “felt alone in the region” as a democracy. “The picture today is quite different,” Yudhoyono said. He observed that democracy had become the rule rather than the exception across Asia and predicted, “The community of democracies will keep growing, hopefully not just in quantity but also in quality.”
Kosei Morimoto, abbot emeritus of Japan’s iconic Todaiji temple, gave the other keynote address. He stressed in his remarks the importance of a spiritual underpinning for democracy. “Japanese acquired an innate receptivity to diverse values, a quality that would be indispensable in absorbing ... democracy,” he said.
Photo: Kosei Morimoto
Kosei Morimoto
Abbot Emeritus, Todaiji Temple
Two panel discussions at the Tokyo gathering probed the “shared values and democracy” theme from different perspectives. The first group of panelists probed the essence of democracy. The second group examined the role of leadership in fulfilling democratic principles. 
Photo: Third gathering
Yangon was the venue on Aug. 5-6, 2017, for Samvad II: Interfaith Dialogue for Peace, Harmony and Security. Eloquently characterizing the mission of the symposium series was Surin Pitsuwan, a Thai diplomat and former secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. A Muslim from a predominantly Buddhist nation, he offered his career as an example of the benefits of religious tolerance. 
Photo: Third gathering
Pitsuwan cited a famous aphorism by the Swiss theologian Hans Kung: “No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions. No dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundation of the religions.” Kung’s dictum has become something of a mantra for speakers at the Samvad and Shared Values and Democracy symposiums. It has resonated through speeches and panel discussions at the gatherings. 
Photo: Surin Pitsuwan
Surin Pitsuwan
Former Secretary-General of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations
Prime ministers Abe and Modi each addressed the Yangon gathering through video messages. Delivering remarks in person were U Thaung Tun, the Myanmar government’s national security adviser, who spoke on behalf of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi; Shri Ram Naik, the governor of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh; Nobuo Kishi, a Japanese state minister for foreign affairs; and Mahant Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Other speakers included religious figures and scholars from Asia, Europe and North America. 
Photo: U Thaung Tun
U Thaung Tun
National Security Adviser
Government of Myanmar
Photo: Shri Ram Naik
Shri Ram Naik
Governor of the State of Uttar PradeshIndia
Photo: Fourth gathering
Tokyo again hosted a Shared Values and Democracy in Asia symposium on July 5, 2018. The event got under way with a greeting from Shri Banwarilal Purohit, the governor of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Also on hand to help kick off the symposium was Arvind Gupta, director of the Vivekananda International Foundation. 
Photo: Fourth gathering
Setting the tone for the gathering was the keynote address by former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. She opened by posing the question: “Where does this aspiration for democracy come from?” And she structured an eloquent answer around five assertions: that the aspiration for democracy is universal, that shared values have helped drive the evolution of Asian countries into modern democracies, that education amplifies the power of democracy, that objective benchmarks are available for monitoring democratic attainment, and that democracy is ever a work in progress.
Photo: Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Former President, The Philippines
Speaking on behalf of the Japanese cosponsors was Sengaku Maeda, the president of the Nakamura Hajime Eastern Institute. He spoke about how we can trace human progress in reference to thought, history, society and religion. He noted how thought unfolds in multiplicity, whereas humanity is singular. He also mused on how the advance of civilization has shrunk the world and how the principle of compassion is more important than ever to human interaction.
Photo: Sengaku Maeda
Sengaku Maeda President, Nakamura Hajime Eastern Institute
Prime Minister Abe put in a personal appearance, and Prime Minister Modi appeared via a video address. Two groups of panelists from 10 Asian nations discussed the themes “Shared Values and Tradition in Asia” and “The Experience of Liberation and Democratization in Asia: The Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi.” A supplementary dialogue between two scholars from the Philippines and Thailand addressed the subject of achievements and challenges in cultural exchange.
Photo: Fifth gathering
Ulaanbaatar hosted Samvad III on Sept. 6-7, 2019, as a joint undertaking by the Vivekananda International Foundation and Gandan Thegchenling Monastery, in association with the International Buddhist Confederation, the Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace, the Japan Foundation and the Institute of Strategic Studies, Mongolia. Assembling in Mongolia, after holding gatherings in India, Japan, and Myanmar, underlined the broadening scope of the symposium series. 
Photo: Fifth gathering
The gathering took place at the Gandan Thegchenling Monastery, and the monastery’s abbot, Khamba Lama Gabju, gave the keynote address. Also addressing the Ulaanbaatar participants were Mongolian Prime Minister Khurelsukh Ukhnaa; Swaminathan Gurumurthy, the chairman of the Vivekananda International Foundation; and, via video greetings, Prime Minister Modi and the Dalai Lama. The Japanese ambassador to Mongolia, Takaoka Masato, read a message from Prime Minister Abe. In addition, the gathering included two roundtables, one devoted to conflict avoidance and interreligious understanding and the other to environmental consciousness and interdependent sustainability.
Photo: Khamba Lama Gabju
Khamba Lama Gabju Abbot, Gandan Thegchenling Monastery
Photo: Khurelsukh Ukhnaa
Khurelsukh Ukhnaa
Prime Minister, Mongolia
Prime Minister Abe emphasized the importance of tolerance and diversity as facets of freedom and democracy. “Freedom and democracy have blossomed in Asia,” he said, as the fruits of tolerance and diversity. “Today, these traditions and values in Asia are spreading as a foundation of a free and open order that will bring stability and prosperity to all countries without discrimination.”
Thus have the Samvad and Shared Values and Democracy symposiums become important venues for reasserting Asian unity in diversity. Let us look forward to hearing new perspectives on that eternal theme as the symposium series reconvenes in December in Tokyo. 

All official titles cited in this text are as of the dates of the symposiums.

Logo: The Government of Japan